Generating Critical Data and Methods to Support Nature-Based Green Infrastructure in Chicago Communities

Bioswale in residential area. | Credit: Guidon Designs
Urban area with green infrastructure. | Credit: Guidon Design
Green space restoration and maintenance in Chicago ©Sandra Steinbrecher
Future GI site at 6425 S Champlain Ave in Woodlawn

Delta Institute is working with community partners to install and monitor the impacts and benefits of nature-based Green Infrastructure projects in the BIPOC-majority Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore in concert with Emerald South’s Terra Firma project to develop replicable resources for communities throughout the region. Our goal is to streamline green infrastructure implementation, maintenance, and assessment strategy.


Why Our Work is Needed

Delta knows from our experience working in communities throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes Basin that climate and environmental problems are most acute in disinvested areas living with legacy issues. The BIPOC-majority South Side Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore are experiencing chronic flood events that are made worse by more frequent climate-impacted precipitation and failing stormwater infrastructure. These neighborhoods continue to lose tree canopy coverage while vacant and underutilized properties number in the hundreds. Underlying all of this is an ongoing recovery from systemic injustices that extracted wealth, prevented economic development, and limited important resources and infrastructure in these neighborhoods.  

Green Infrastructure can help communities manage their stormwater runoff, improve air and water quality, increase property values, and build social cohesion but a lack of implementation guidance and critical data often prevents it from being installed. Easily accessible data and information needs to be generated and distributed to demonstrate to community groups, elected officials, and municipal agencies that Green Infrastructure is a viable solution.

Brief Overview of What We’re Doing

Delta is working with numerous community partners to install and monitor the impacts of nature-based Green Infrastructure projects in the BIPOC-majority Chicago neighborhoods of Washington Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore. Our efforts are directly in concert with The Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative’s Terra Firma project and Woodlawn’s Sustainable Square Mile, which includes the Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley House, and the Mamie and Emmett Till Memorial Garden—all of which are owned, stewarded, and implemented by Blacks in Green.

We will collaborate to collectively offer learnings, best practices, and results with other stakeholders and practitioners to inform Green Infrastructure installation in other Chicago neighborhoods and throughout the broader Midwest. Following the installation of multiple Green Infrastructure sites, Delta will use the lessons learned to create a suite of resources to be utilized by groups in disinvested communities to create a streamlined green infrastructure implementation, maintenance, and assessment strategy.

This two-year project (slated to end in December 2023) will include close involvement with community partners, neighborhood groups, and residents to ensure community priorities are reflected in the final design of the four sites. Authentic and inclusive community involvement will be consistently incorporated into all quality-of-life and environmental planning. The lessons learned from this project will provide important insights into how this can be done effectively. 

What does a community-led BioBlitz look like?

A BioBlitz is a canvas of an area for all currently present flora and fauna, including insects, pollinators, and wildlife. Delta and our key partners, Blacks in Green, hosted our first BioBlitz held in coordination with BIG’s community Juneteenth Celebration in June 2023. West Woodlawn residents came out to canvas and explore their neighborhood, and the insights and documentation from these citizen-scientists informed our BioBlitz Baseline Summary, available for public use and review. Delta will use this baseline to determine impacts and expansion of biodiversity on these sites, and will incorporate said learnings into our future implementation roadmap deliverable.

Please also read our press release celebrating the BioBlitz and BIG’s Juneteenth celebration. We deeply appreciate our many friends, West Woodlawn residents, and BIG for sharing this special day with us.

Our Impact

Our goals and outcomes for this project include: 

  • Implement Green Infrastructure projects on parcels/in areas that have been prioritized by the local community;  
  • Assess real-world effectiveness of different nature-based Green Infrastructure solutions versus modeled estimates; 
  • Utilize existing and new monitoring technologies to assess effectiveness and applicability; and,   
  • Streamline planning and implementation of nature-based Green Infrastructure to lower implementation and maintenance costs—thus making Green Infrastructure a more affordable and viable option for Environmental Justice communities to consider as part of their long-term quality of life planning. 

We will update this page as we implement the project to share accomplishments as well as offer ways for residents, community groups, and partners to engage with us. Please check in with us routinely as we implement this project with our partners, thank you! 



Delta Institute is deeply appreciative to a wide array of partners and collaborators. In particular, we wuld like to thank our project partners for contributing their thoughts, experience, and acumen to our work:

  • Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative
  • Blacks in Green
  • South Merrill Community Garden
  • The Field Museum
  • Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Carter School of Excellence
  • Church of the Good Shepherd
  • Burke Elementary School
  • University of Chicago Charter School – Woodlawn
  • Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Numerous community organizations, residents, neighbors, and Citizen Scientists

Delta Institute is grateful to our funding partners whose generosity allows us to pursue the impact we hope to have in this work. Our funding partners include:

  • The Walder Foundation
  • The McDougal Family Foundation
  • The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
  • Bank of America Charitable Foundation
  • Anonymous Foundation
  • Anonymous Corporate Partner
  • US Bank
  • Helen V. Brach Foundation

A very warm thank you to everyone who is collaborating with us, we appreciate you.

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